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What Does a Chaplain Do?

Chaplains lead nondenominational religious services and provide spiritual support to those who are unable to attend organized religious services. A chaplain may work in a hospital, prison, or university, or serve as part of the military. Although prison, military, school, and hospital chaplains work in very different environments, they all provide spiritual guidance to individuals who don't have access to formal religious services offered by their faith of choice.

Career Overview

A chaplain is an ordained clergy member who provides religious services and support to people who are hospitalized, incarcerated, or unable to attend religious services because they are on military duty. In the past, chaplains have been associated with the Christian faith, but today chaplains are expected to provide truly nondenominational spiritual guidance. Chaplains now represent a variety of faiths, ranging from Judaism to Buddhism, and they often serve diverse constituencies by holding multi-faith or nondenominational services.

Chaplains are employed in a variety of settings, including the military, parishes, hospitals, prisons, universities, and schools. Military chaplains may be assigned to ships or military bases, and they may even be deployed in war zones. Hospital chaplains serve patients and staff members, and they may also provide in-home religious services for patients who are recovering from illnesses or receiving hospice care.

Important Facts About Chaplains

Job Outlook (2016-2026)8% growth (for all clergy)
Required EducationBachelor's; Master's required by many employers
CertificationRequired for military employ
Similar OccupationsPriest, pastor, missionary, minister

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Duties and Responsibilities

A chaplain's most important job is to provide religious services, spiritual guidance, and counseling to those in need. According to O-Net Online, a website created for the U.S. Department of Labor, a chaplain gives sermons to encourage spirituality and provide comfort.

A chaplain who works in a hospital or hospice facility provides counseling and spiritual guidance for patients, their families, and even the hospital staff. Chaplains may also provide educational programs or conversion counseling to youth or prisoners. Chaplains can perform religious rites such as weddings and funerals as well. Depending on their work environment, chaplains may plan and coordinate retreats and training for others who perform religious services and spiritual counseling.

Salary Information

According to PayScale.com, as of June 2019, the majority of chaplains earn salaries ranging from $35,000 to $68,000 a year. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers reported in May 2018 indicate that clergy members working for the federal government earn more than others in their field, with an average annual salary of $77,270. In contrast, clergy members working for state government earn an average annual salary of $53,290.